This post comes out of several questions that have been asked from my post watching over souls in regard to leadership in the church and how those leaders should be labeled. Should I be the “Senior Pastor” or the “Lead Pastor?” Is an associate pastor biblical? Should I hire a youth pastor, or a general associate pastor? Acknowledging the office of pastor and elder is the same in the NT, here are a few guidelines for your consideration:
Make sure an affirmed pastor functions as a biblical pastor. If you give a staff member (or a layman for that matter) the title of pastor or elder, make sure they are doing what pastors/elders, do. Namely: prayer, ministry of the Word, and caring for souls. So often the title of “pastor” is given because of some administrative role, or a man who significantly leads the church in some capacity. The title of pastor is not to be given to the most popular or influencial, but to the one who qualifies and functions as the Bible describes (1 Tim. 3:1-7, 1 Peter 5:1-4).
Make sure you label this office in a way understandable to your church. When I attempted to transition our church to a pluality of pastors/elders there was much confusion largely because my traditional SBC church members did not know what “an elder” actually was. It created quite a conflict. A year later, I came back with the same proposal, but used the term, “pastor” instead of “elder.” It passed with no objections. They knew what a pastor was. Make sure you use the term for this office that is most familiar to your people.
Make sure you appoint the pastors tasks according to their unique gifts. Just because all pastors are to be about the task of: prayer, Word, and soul care, does not mean you cannot appoint them to tasks related to their unique gifts. We have one pastor gifted with administration and another to discipleship. As they share with all pastors in the biblical tasks (prayer, Word, soul care), we also provide time for them to serve the church with their unique gifts God has given them. We would be fools to do otherwise.
Although all men given the label of “pastor” in your church should be functioning in that biblical task in some way among the congregation, we would also be poor stewards not to identify the way the pastors in our church are uniquely gifted and not place them in that role to some degree. Ultimately, the label is not what is important. Having true biblical shepherds in your church to care for God’s people until the Chief Shepherd comes…is.